When Maui County officials released the names on Thursday of 388 people who were still believed to be missing, they implored anyone who knew that a person on the list was safe to contact them. They received more than 100 responses within one day. “As we get someone off of a list, this has enabled us to devote more resources to those who are still on the list,” Steven Merrill, the special agent in charge of the F.B.I.’s Honolulu field office, said during a news conference on Friday.
In a new lawsuit, Maui County said Hawaiian Electric had acted negligently by failing to disconnect power lines that were at risk of toppling in high winds.
Water in parts of West Maui is still not safe to drink because damaged pipes have allowed chemicals to seep into the water supply, the county government said.
The official death toll has reached 115 people and is expected to climb. Maui County has publicly identified 38 of the people.
More than two weeks after wildfires swept across Maui, state officials are asking relatives of those missing in the disaster to submit DNA samples so that they can better identify any remains found among the ashes.
Though the authorities on Maui began registering the names of the missing and taking DNA from family members two days after the fires, families say they have had to rely on crowdsourced lists for basic information about who and how many are missing.
While the F.B.I. has a list of up to 1,100 people who have been reported missing that it is working to vet, the list of 388 that was released on Thursday included people for whom officials had validated first and last names and had verified contact information for the person who reported them missing.
By making the names public on Thursday, the authorities hoped to narrow the tally of the missing, which they did.
“We also know that once those names come out, it can and will cause pain for folks whose loved ones are listed,” John Pelletier, the Maui police chief, said in a statement. “This is not an easy thing to do, but we want to make sure that we are doing everything we can to make this investigation as complete and thorough as possible.”
Search teams say they had finished combing through all of the residential properties in Lahaina, the historic town of 13,000 that was largely destroyed by the fires. But the number of confirmed deaths and of those who have been publicly identified has hardly risen in the last several days.
“The numbers are not adding up,” said Jason Musgrove, who has spent every day since the fires trying to find out whether his mother is alive or dead.
Hawaii officials say that, out of compassion and courtesy for relatives, they are withholding names until families can be contacted.
But it can take months or even years of forensic analysis and DNA testing to identify the dead, similar to the aftermaths of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Hurricane Katrina and the wildfire that devastated Paradise, Calif.
“We may not know in the end about everybody,” Mr. Merrill said at a news conference on Tuesday.
Speaking in Lahaina on Monday — and near a 150-year-old banyan tree that survived the fires to become a symbol of hope — President Biden repeatedly referred to “the kingdom of Hawaii” as he emphasized his commitment to rebuilding. Lahaina was once the islands’ royal capital.
“We’re going to rebuild the way people of Maui want to build,” he said. “We will be respectful of the sacred grounds and the traditions.”
The death toll seems certain to keep rising.
The toll of at least 115 deaths makes the fires on Maui one of the worst natural disasters in Hawaii’s history, and the nation’s deadliest wildfires since 1918, when blazes in northeast Minnesota killed hundreds of people.
The slow pace of identifying victims has been dictated, officials said, by the large-scale destruction and by Maui’s remoteness, which complicated the arrival of out-of-state search dog teams. About 340 emergency personnel and 50 canine units are still searching, officials said Tuesday.
Displaced residents are being moved into hotels.
Emergency shelters, which housed more than 2,000 people the day after the fires broke out, are expected to be empty by the end of Monday, according to an update from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Displaced residents will stay in hotels, where they will be housed and fed through at least the spring, officials said.
County and federal aid efforts gathered pace over the last week, after frustrated residents in West Maui initially said that they were receiving far more help from an ad hoc network of charitable organizations and volunteers than they were from the government.
As of Monday, the Federal Emergency Management Agency had given $7 million in short-term aid to nearly 2,200 households.
Kiilani Kalawe, 19, said that she was relieved to have landed a hotel room with her boyfriend and former Lahaina roommates. “It helps to distract our brains from everything,” she said. “At least we know we’ll be safe.”
What caused the fires?
No single cause has been determined, but experts said one possibility was that active power lines that fell in high winds had ignited a wildfire that ultimately consumed Lahaina.
Brush fires were already burning on Maui and the island of Hawaii on Aug. 8. Maui County officials informed residents that morning that a small brush fire in Lahaina had been completely contained, but they then issued an alert several hours later that described “an afternoon flare-up” that prompted evacuations.
The fires on the islands were stoked on Aug. 9 by a combination of low humidity and strong mountain winds, brought by Hurricane Dora, a Category 4 storm hundreds of miles away.
Worsening drought conditions in recent weeks probably also contributed. Nearly 16 percent of Maui County was in a severe drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.
Maui County officials claimed in a lawsuit filed on Thursday that the “intentional and malicious” mismanagement of power lines by Hawaiian Electric had allowed flames to spark. Earlier, law firms filed suits on behalf of victims, claiming that Hawaiian Electric, the state’s largest utility and the parent company of the power provider on Maui, was at fault for having power equipment that could not withstand heavy winds and for keeping power lines electrified despite warnings of high winds.
Shelee Kimura, the chief executive of Hawaiian Electric, said the company did not have a shut-off program and contended that cutting the power could have created problems for people using medical equipment that runs on electricity. She also said turning off the power would have required coordination with emergency workers.
There are widespread fears that rebuilding will be difficult or impossible for many residents. State and local officials are considering a moratorium on sales of damaged or destroyed properties, to prevent outsiders from taking advantage of the tragedy.
And the Hawaii Tourism Authority said visitors planning to travel to West Maui within the next several months should delay their trips or find another destination. Most of the 1,000 rooms in the area have been set aside for evacuees and rescue workers.
The hit to the tourism industry presents a major challenge to rebuilding the island’s economy.
A longer-term worry is the changing climate.
The area burned by wildfires in Hawaii each year has quadrupled in recent decades. Invasive grasses that leave the islands increasingly susceptible to wildfires and climate change have worsened dry and hot conditions in the state, allowing wildfires to spread more quickly, climatologists say.
Erica Green, Zolan Kanno-Youngs, Jack Healy, Tim Arango, Kellen Browning and Eileen Sullivan contributed reporting.
Adeel Hassan is a reporter and editor on the National Desk. He is a founding member of Race/Related, and much of his work focuses on identity and discrimination. He started the Morning Briefing for NYT Now and was its inaugural writer. He also served as an editor on the International Desk. More about Adeel Hassan